While the platform economy in China has received increasing scholarly attention, most studies place the experience of platform work in the context of algorithmic control by the platforms, ignoring the political context in which digital labour is situated. This article is the first to provide a systemic analysis of the labour regulatory framework that governs China’s platform economy. It identifies a five-level framework – labour laws, administrative regulations, departmental rules, local government regulations, and judicial interpretations – and aims to explain the limited extent to which this framework can provide protections to platform workers. It begins with a discussion of the definition of ‘labour relationship’ in the Chinese legal context and explains the ambiguous status of platform labour in China. This supports its explanation of why platform workers currently are ill-protected. Then, it presents policy efforts that have been made by both central and local governments to improve the protection of workers’ rights, and assesses their practical limitations. The article suggests that further policy efforts must be taken to review legal frameworks that regulate labour relationship in the platform economy and clarify remaining ambiguities, thus enabling the court system to do its work.
Keywords Platform economy, China, labour law, labour governance, digital labour, policy analysis